Then collaborate, don’t co-operate
Events abroad, at home, in-office and in-house are indeed stranger than fiction. So strange, in fact, that many of us wonder whether we should be fighting over it or talking about it.
Well, that depends on whether you want the outcome to be optimized. Or not. And that, in turn, depends on your inclination to collaborate or to co-operate.
Be a talker, not a fighter
Are you a talker or a fighter? To get things done through others, do you persuade or do you instruct? Do you compel or do you convince?
Here’s why it matters: More than two hundred years ago Edmund Burke said that “a nation is not conquered which is perpetually to be conquered.” In other words, if you rely mainly on force and fear, on the authority vested in your position, then you will end up having to rely on it again and again.
And you won’t be very successful.
According to a study quoted in the Economist magazine a few years ago, military might has resolved fewer than 8% of conflicts over the past 15 years, whereas 92% of negotiations have succeeded.
The lesson for managers? Skillful negotiators are far more successful than bossy autocrats. So develop your personal power. Become a talker, not a fighter.
And then shoot (pun intended) for collaboration, not co-operation.
Co-operation leads to sub-optimization
Quite correctly, managers want people to co-operate. But be warned. Co-operation can lead to sub-optimization.
Whenever people try to co-operate, there is a risk that everyone will ultimately perform at the level of the lowest contributor or the weakest member. This happens because:
- co-operation seldom happens between equals;
- the weakest member cannot hide and is aware of being weak; and
- nobody enjoys feeling as if they are doing more than others without receiving more in return.
This creates situations where the weak want to be rescued and the strong wonder why they should bother. The weak sense this and create minor irritations (mainly through passive-aggressive behavior) so that the strong are kept off-balance. In this way, the weak claim some power.
The outcome? Although co-operation is meant to make all parties perform better, it more often leads to sub-optimization.
How collaboration resists the tug of sub-optimization
As I explained, co-operation can lead to sub-optimization. So what can you do to prevent it? Apart from being aware of the risk and managing accordingly, here’s what I suggest.
Seek or create reasons to collaborate, not co-operate.
Let me explain. Co-operation becomes problematic when parties with different ambitions and agendas are forced, for whatever reason, to work together, whether or not they like it.
On the other hand, collaboration happens when parties work together to achieve identical goals.
Although people can co-operate even if they don’t understand or agree with the reason for doing so, they can only collaborate when they understand the shared goals and believe that these goals are mutually beneficial. Why is this? Because collaboration requires that the best of each contributor is sought, valued, and used.
And that is how collaboration resists the tug of sub-optimization.
Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.